In this commentary, Jules Tibbles, an intersectional feminist writer, recounts their debilitating economic and emotional experiences with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, and reflects on the need for paid menstrual leave.
This commentary is part of the Voices of Disability Economic Justice Project, a partnership with TCF’s Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. Voices of Disability Economic Justice showcases disabled writers’ first-person perspectives on the economic issues that matter most to them.
Content note: this piece mentions suicide. If you or someone you know are in need of support, please consider the following resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
En Español: 1-888-628-9454
For people who are deaf/hard-of-hearing: 1-800-799-4889
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
I’ve been here before.
This unbearable battle of brain and body, always bringing to my attention that I am at odds with my own reality. Every three weeks my estrogen drops, my body begins its luteal phase, and I enter into an eerily familiar yet terrifying and unpredictable unknown.
PMDD, they call it. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, an under-researched and debilitating condition that sometimes feels like a cloud of darkness I will never find my way out of. Yet, I am still expected to show up to my life. I am still expected to put a smile on my face and ask people what they would like to drink. I am still expected to wear the cookie-cutter version of myself that isn’t messy and chaotic and difficult to look at.
So, when I opened the news a few weeks ago and saw that Spain became the first European country to entitle workers to paid menstrual leave, I immediately started crying. Those tears were a mixture of deep joy and relief for all the people of Spain who are now being recognized in their bodily experience, and deep grief as a person who lives in the United States, a country that seems to be reverting rather than moving forward in recognizing my and many others’ tangible reality while continuing to strip away so many of our rights.
Reproductive autonomy has been at the forefront of my mind lately. It’s not merely about the right to choose what happens with our bodies, but also our right to exist in our bodies as they are without judgment or punishment; but rather, compassion, empathy, and support—things I haven’t experienced in navigating employment.
Throughout my lifetime I’ve been in many different roles. Yet, they never seem to last very long. Not because I didn’t want them to, or because I wasn’t skilled enough for the work, but merely because I couldn’t show up consistently in the ways they were asking me to.
The older I get, the harder it seems to hold a job that isn’t mostly on my terms. It is not typically suitable to call in and say, “sorry, I can’t get out of bed this morning,” for the third month in a row. I can’t say that I am in so much mental anguish at the very thought of leaving my apartment, to the point that I am unable to breathe. It is not socially acceptable for me to express my lack of ability to show up when someone is expecting me to be in a certain place, at a certain time, in a certain manner—especially when my entire livelihood depends on it.
I have spent so much time pushing myself to do what I need to do. I have spent so much time pushing myself to the brink of suicidality because I have to continue showing up to the job that pays my rent.
The financial impact I have experienced because of this for the majority of my adult life is excruciatingly difficult. Beyond that, it has also affected my ability to truly believe in my capabilities and what I will be able to accomplish long term. It has caused me to downplay what I love to do and who I want to be because I am afraid of putting effort into getting an education that will lead me there and because I am unsure if I can commit to it. And if I cannot commit to it, I definitely cannot afford to put energy into it, let alone money.
I have missed out on so many opportunities, lost so many experiences, and been hit hard with financial burdens because I have convinced myself that I will never be able to exist in the current economic system productively and functionally. But I am slowly looking for ways to exist as a messy, chaotic, and sometimes difficult-to-look-at human being that are also supportive of my economic security and sense of well-being. It is not easy to find a place in a system that is not built for you, but I am tired of trying to push myself. I may not be able to pay my rent this month, but at least I am alive. And being alive is more important than forcing myself to be something I am not.